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Non-Fiction Monday: The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with Chimps by Jeanette Winter
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32 p. Schwartz & Wade Books/ Random House Children's Books, April, 2011.

Jane Goodall grew up in England. Her favorite toy was a stuffed monkey. She also had a favorite tree to climb and loved to read Tarzan books. Additionally, she loved animals and nature and observing things. She dreamed of traveling to Africa, but women at the time did not typically do that sort of work, so Jane worked odd jobs and saved her money to pay her own way. Once she arrived in Africa, she found work with a famous scientist, Louis Leakey. She was assigned to study chimpanzees. 

Observing the chimpanzees proved to be challenging. Her patience and observational skills were sorely tested. She even got sick with Malaria; but she did not quit. Eventually, her patience was rewarded and she made revolutionary discoveries. 

Winter's signature style, with her vibrant palette and simple, folk-type drawing technique works beautifully both alone, when considering just the illustration, and with her understated storytelling. I have long admired Jeanette Winter for her ability to tell tough stories gently, as she did in Baby and September Roses. Her picture book biographies capture the essence of each of her subjects for young readers. I recommend many of her picture books to middle school teachers as excellent resources to introduce a unit or to highlight a concept. 

In The Watcher, Winter beautifully distills the qualities that made Jane Goodall memorable: patience, imagination, perseverance and belief in oneself. The book portrays Goodall's life as particularly solitary. I wonder if that aspect will be questioned by young readers. I could not imagine that she was utterly alone during her bout with Malaria or in stomping through the jungle with equipment that included a phonograph. This is a minor quibble.

I will confess to missing the teeny-tiny heads of the chimps on one double page spread the first three times I read through the books. I wish I had a group of children to read this one aloud to in order to find out just how many eagle eyes there are out there.

In an interesting publishing/ creative coincidence, April also saw the release of a second picture book about Jane Goodall, called Me, Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. I will write about Me, Jane tomorrow.

Non-fiction Monday is hosted this week by Geo-Librarian.